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The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines.
Patricia Monaghan.
Llewellyn 1997. Pb $19.95. 

This is the third incarnation of this book. The first was called Women in Myth and Legend in its English edition (1981) but The Book of Goddesses and Heroines in the USA. Llewellyn published a revised and enlarged edition under the second title in 1990, and now we have yet another enlargement and improvement. The book is a large-format dictionary of goddesses and legendary women from many cultures and many times. The ‘heroines’ of the title are non-divine women from legend; for real women from Boudicca to Zenobia (and beyond in both directions) one needs a book such as Jessica Salmonson’s The Encyclopaedia of Amazons.

The main text is an alphabetical listing of names, with an account of the relevant stories which ranges from four lines to two pages or so. In addition there is a short overview of various cultures in which goddesses were significant (the author had the assistance of other writers such as Janet McCrickard and Miriam Robbins Dexter here) with a list of the goddesses of that culture. There is also a section called “symbols of the goddess” though I would refer to ‘attributes’ rather than ‘symbols’. Here one can find which goddesses are associated with the weather, with healing both general and specific, with various crafts, and with many other matters. There are also several black-and-white photographs of objects from the Fields Museum in Chicago. There is always a difficulty with such dictionaries or encyclopaedias. The author cannot possibly make space for all the variant legends about some goddess, but must make a choice between them. At times I feel that her choice omits some important factor, but this is essentially a personal decision. The bibliography is full enough for anyone interested in a particular goddess to look further. For anyone who likes dictionaries of this kind and does not have an earlier version, I very much recommend this book. Even if you have an earlier version, there is enough additional material to make it worth considering getting this one as well. (Added 2005. I have heard that yet another edition is in preparation, but I do not know its likely publication date.)

Wood and Water 62, Spring 1998 
© Daniel Cohen


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